james hansen

Post image for Why Is Congress Lethargic about Energy?

This week National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog poses the question: “What’s holding back energy & climate policy.” So far 14 wonks have posted comments including yours truly. What I propose to do here is ‘revise and extend my remarks’ to provide a clearer, more complete explanation of Capitol Hill’s energy lethargy.

To summarize my conclusions in advance, there is no momentum building for the kind of comprehensive energy legislation Congress enacted in 2005 and 2007, or the major energy bills the House passed in 2011, because:

  • We are not in a presidential election year so Republicans have less to gain from passing pro-energy legislation just to frame issues and clarify policy differences for the electorate;
  • Divided government makes it virtually impossible either for congressional Republicans to halt and reverse the Obama administration’s regulatory war on fossil fuels or for Hill Democrats to pass cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, or a national clean energy standard;
  • Democrats paid a political price for cap-and-trade and won’t champion carbon taxes without Republicans agreeing to commit political suicide by granting them bipartisan cover;
  • The national security and climate change rationales for anti-fossil fuel policies were always weak but have become increasingly implausible thanks to North America’s resurgence as an oil and gas producing province, Climategate, and developments in climate science;
  • Multiple policy failures in Europe and the U.S. have eroded public and policymaker support for ‘green’ energy schemes;
  • It has become increasingly evident that the Kyoto crusade was a foredoomed attempt to put policy carts before technology horses; and,
  • The EPA is ‘enacting’ climate policy via administrative fiat, so environmental campaigners no longer need legislation to advance their agenda.

[click to continue…]

Post image for “Harvard Needs Remedial Energy Math” — Robert Bryce

Environmental activist Bill McKibben and his organization, 350.org, are on a “Do the Math” tour in which they urge colleges and universities to “divest their endowments, estimated at a total of $400 billion nationwide, from the fossil fuel industry.” The 350.org campaign is explicitly modeled on the 1980s divestment campaign that persuaded many universities to dump their stock in companies doing business in South Africa. Radical environmentalists view fossil-energy use as the moral equivalent of apartheid — or worse.  

With about half of the student body polled, 72% of Harvard undergrads voted for the university to Go Fossil Free, reports energy scholar Robert Bryce in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Harvard is renowned for educating the ‘best and brightest.’ Should U.S. and global policymakers do as these ivy leaguers say?

Bryce takes the ‘Harvards’ to school and shows them what doing the math really means.

About 33% of global energy comes from oil, which is indispensable to transportation. Most of those voting to Go Fossil Free probably did not walk or bike from home to Harvard. As Steven Colbert asked McKibben, a Vermont native, during a Washington, D.C. protest rally against the Keystone XL Pipeline: How did you get down here? Did you ride your bicycle? Did you ride ox cart? “Or do you have a vehicle that runs on hypocrisy?”

But okay, unselfconscious hypocrisy is a prerogative of the young.

Byrce’s math lesson proper begins with the fact that since 1985, global electricity demand has increased by 121%, three times faster than the growth rate of oil demand. Over the past 25 years, global electricity consumption increased on average by 450 trillion watts-hours (“terawatt-hours”) per year. “That’s the equivalent of adding about one Brazil (which used 485 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2010) to the electricity sector every year,” Bryce writes. “The International Energy Agency expects global electricity use to continue growing by about 450 terawatt-hours per year through 2035.”

The point? The world in 2011 had 240,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity, producing 437 terawatt-hours of electricity. “Therefore, just keeping up with the growth in global electricity demand — while not displacing any of the existing need for coal, oil and natural gas — would require the countries of the world to install about as much wind-generation capacity as now exists, and they’d have to do so every year.”

Well, what’s wrong with that? For one thing, it would put a big fat industrial footprint across a lot of green space: “Put another way, just to keep pace with demand growth, the wind industry will need to cover a land area of some 48,000 square miles with wind turbines per year, an area about the size of North Carolina.” [click to continue…]

Post image for Sen. Whitehouse Fumes at ‘Climate Deniers’

In a fiery speech yesterday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) “calls out” “climate deniers.” In the first half of the speech he goes ad hominem, attacking opponents as “front groups” who take payola from “polluters” to “confuse” the public by selling “doubt” as their product.

First a bit of free advice for the good Senator:

Your team has been playing nasty from day one. It didn’t get you cap-and-trade, it didn’t get you Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and it’s not going to get you a carbon tax.  

Vilification doesn’t work because biomass, wind turbines, and solar panels are not up to the challenge of powering a modern economy, and most Americans are too practical to believe otherwise.

So by all means, keep talking trash about your opponents. The shriller your rhetoric, the more skeptical the public will become about your bona fides as an honest broker of “the science.”

Okay, let’s examine Sen. Whitehouse’s argument. He accuses skeptics of peddling “straw man arguments,” such as that “the earth’s climate always changes; it’s been warmer in the past.” Well, it does, and it has! Many studies indicate the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was warmer than the current warm period (CWP). A study published in July in Nature Climate Change concludes the Roman Warm Period (RWP) was warmer than both the MWP and CWP. The Northern Hemisphere was substantially warmer than the present for thousands of years during the Holocene Climate Optimum (~5,000-9,000 years ago). Arctic summer air temperatures were 4-5°C above present temperatures for millennia during the previous interglacial period.

None of this is evidence man-made global warming is not occurring, but Sen. Whitehouse sets up his own straw man by making that the main issue in dispute. What the paleoclimate information does indicate is that the warmth of the past 50 years is not outside the range of natural variability and is no cause for alarm. The greater-than-present warmth of the Holocene Optimum, RWP, and MWP contributed to improvements in human health and welfare[click to continue…]

Post image for John Christy on Summer Heat and James Hansen’s PNAS Study

In a recent study published in Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), NASA scientist James Hansen and two colleagues find that whereas “extremely hot” summer weather “practically did not exist” during 1951-1980, such weather affected between 4% and 13% of the Northern Hemisphere land area during 2006-2011. The researchers infer that human-caused global warming is “loading” the “climate dice” towards extreme heat anomalies. They conclude with a “high degree of confidence” that the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave, and the 2011 Texas-Oklahoma drought were a “consequence of global warming” and have (as Hansen put it in a recent op-ed) “virtually no explanation other than climate change.”

In a recent post, I reviewed studies finding that the aforementioned anomalies were chiefly due to natural variability. In another post, I summarized an analysis by Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger, who conclude that “the 2012 drought conditions, and every other [U.S.] drought that has come before, is the result of natural processes, not human greenhouse gas emissions.”

But what about the very hot weather afflicting much of the U.S. this summer? Greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising, heat spells are bound to become more frequent and severe as the world warms, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that July 2012 was the hottest July ever in the U.S. instrumental record. Isn’t this summer what greenhouse warming “looks like“? What else could it be?

University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) climatologist John Christy addressed these questions last week in a two-part column. In Part 1, Christy argues that U.S. daily mean temperature (TMean) data, on which NOAA based its report, “do not represent the deep atmosphere where the enhanced greenhouse effect should be detected, so making claims about causes is unwise.” A better measure of the greenhouse effect is daily maximum temperature (TMax), and TMax records set in the 1930s remain unbroken. In Part 2, Christy argues that Hansen’s 10% estimate of the portion of land affected by extreme heat during 2006-2011 shrinks down to 2.9% when anomalies are measured against a longer, more representative climate baseline.  [click to continue…]

Post image for Hansen on Extreme Weather — Pat and Chip Respond

Last week, I posted a commentary on NASA scientist James Hansen’s study and op-ed, which attribute recent extreme weather to global climate change. In the op-ed, Hansen stated:

The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.

My commentary concluded: “Hansen’s sweeping assertion that global warming is the principal cause of the European and Russian heat waves, and the Texas-Oklahoma drought, is not supported by event-specific analysis and is implausible in light of previous research.”

Although Hansen does not explicitly attribute the ongoing U.S. drought to global warming, he does blame global warming for both the 2011 Texas-Oklahoma drought and the current summer heat. And in his study, Hansen states: “With the temperature amplified by global warming and ubiquitous surface heating from elevated greenhouse gas amounts, extreme drought conditions can develop.”

This week on World Climate Report, Pat Michaels and Chip Knappenberger argue that the current U.S. drought “is driven by natural variability not global warming.” Their post (“Hansen Is Wrong“) is concise and layman-friendly. Here I offer an even briefer summary.

A standard measure of drought in the U.S. is the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), which measures the combined effects of temperature (hotter weather = more soil evaporation) and precipitation (more rainfall = more soil moisture). “The more positive the PDSI values, the wetter conditions are, the more negative the PDSI values, the drier things are.” The PDSI for the past 117 years (1895-2011) shows a small non-significant positive trend (i.e. towards wetter conditions). There is no greenhouse warming signal in this data.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Hansen’s Study: Did Global Warming Cause Recent Extreme Weather Events?

A study by NASA’s James Hansen and two colleagues, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), finds that during the past 30 years, extreme hot weather has become more frequent and affects a larger area of the world than was the case during the preceding 30 years. Specifically, the study, “Perception of climate change,” reports that:

  • Cool summers occurred one-third of the time during 1951-1980 but occurred only 10% of the time during 1981-2010.
  • Very hot weather affected 0.2% of the land area during 1951-1980 but affected 10% of the land area during 1981-2010.

Hansen is the world’s best known scientist in the climate alarm camp and a leading advocate of aggressive measures to curb fossil-energy use. He and his co-authors are up front about the policy agenda motivating their study. The “notorious variability of local weather and climate from day to day and year to year” is the “great barrier” to “public recognition” of man-made climate change and, thus, to public support for policies requiring “rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions.” When heat waves or drought strike, the authors want the public to perceive global warming. On Saturday, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Hansen summarizing the study’s results.

Heat waves will become more frequent and severe as the world warms; some areas will become drier, others wetter. Those hypotheses are not controversial.

What the Hansen team concludes, however, is controversial. The researchers contend that the biggest, baddest hot weather extremes of recent years — the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave, the 2011 Texas-Oklahoma drought, the ongoing Midwest drought — are a “consequence of global warming” and have “virtually no explanation other than climate change.”

There’s just one small problem. The reseachers do not examine any of those events to assess the relative contributions of natural climate variability and global warming. The study provides no event-specific evidence that the record-setting heat waves or droughts would not have occurred in the absence of warming, or would not have broken records in the absence of warming.  [click to continue…]

Post image for Why Doesn’t Greenpeace Demand a Congressional Probe of James Hansen’s Outside Income?

The Heartland Institute plans to pay Indur Goklany, an expert on climate economics and policy, a monthly stipend to write a chapter on those topics for the Institute’s forthcoming mega-report, Climate Change Reconsidered 2012. Earlier this week, Greenpeace and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called for a congressional investigation of Goklany. In addition to being an independent scholar, Goklany is a Department of Interior employee. Federal employees may not receive outside income for teaching, writing, or speaking related to their “official duties.”

But as I pointed out yesterday on this site, climate economics and policy are (to the best of my knowledge) not part of Goklany’s “official duties.” It would be shocking if they were. Goklany is a leading debunker of climate alarm and opposes coercive decarbonization schemes. Why on earth would the Obama Interior Department assign someone like that to work on climate policy?

Greenpeace and Grijalva have got the wrong target in their sites. The inquisition they propose might actually have some merit if directed at one of their heroes: Dr. James Hansen of NASA. Hansen has received upwards of $1.6 million in outside income. And it’s not unreasonable to assume that most or all of that income was for teaching, writing, and speaking on matters “related to” his “official duties.” [click to continue…]

Post image for Will Blocking Keystone XL Increase GHG Emissions?

Last week, after three years of environmental review, public meetings, and public comment, President Obama postponed until first quarter 2013 a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline — the $7 billion, shovel-ready project to deliver up to 830,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil from Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. Obama’s punt, which Keystone opponents hope effectively kills the pipeline, is topic-of-the-week on National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog. So far, a dozen “experts” have posted, including yours truly.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention at all over the past 40 years, you may suspect that most Keystone opponents want to kill the pipeline just because they hate oil and oil companies — even as they fill up their tanks to drive to the next demonstration. Bill McKibben, lead organizer of the anti-Keystone protest rallies outside the White House, lives in Vermont. On the Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert asked McKibben: “You’re from Vermont? Did you ride your bicycle down here? Or did you ride ox cart? How did you get down here? Or do you have a vehicle that runs on hypocrisy?”

If we take them at their word, McKibben and his climate guru, NASA scientist James Hansen, oppose Keystone because they believe it will contribute to global warming. How? The cutting-edge method for extracting oil from tar sands is a process called steam assisted gravity drainage. SAGD uses natural gas to heat and liquefy bitumen, a tar-like form of petroleum too viscous to be pumped by conventional wells, and burning natural gas emits carbon dioxide (CO2). So their gripe is that replacing conventional oil with tar sands oil will increase CO2 emissions from the U.S. transport sector. Maybe by only 1% annually,* but to hard-core warmists, any increase is intolerable.

Enter the Law of Unintended Consequences. If McKibben and Hansen succeed in killing the pipeline, petroleum-related CO2 emissions might actually increase! [click to continue…]

The Myth of Oil Addiction

by Marlo Lewis on September 1, 2011

Post image for The Myth of Oil Addiction

It’s a trick employed by rhetoricians from time immemorial. When their case against an opponent is unpersuasive on the merits, they invoke the image of something their target audience fears or hates. Thus, for example, political pleaders have asserted that money, Dick Cheney, or Zionism “is a cancer on the body politic.”

Perhaps the most influential use of this tactic in modern times is the attack on carbon dioxide (CO2) as “global warming pollution” and on CO2 emitters as “polluters.” Many who know better, including highly credentialed scientists, routinely couple the words “carbon” and “pollution” in their public discourse.

In reality, CO2 — like water vapor, the atmosphere’s main greenhouse gas — is a natural constituent of clean air. Colorless, odorless, and non-toxic to humans at 30 times ambient concentrations, CO2 is an essential building block of the planetary food chain. The increase in the air’s CO2 content since the dawn of the industrial revolution — from 280 to 390 parts per million – boosts the water-use efficiency of trees, crops, and other plants; helps protect green things from the damaging effects of smog and UV-B radiation; and helps make food more plentiful and nutritious. The many health and welfare benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment make CO2 unlike any other substance ever previously regulated as a “pollutant.”

A closely related abuse of the English languge is the oft-repeated claim that America is “addicted to oil.” Although popularized by a Texas oil man, former President G.W. Bush, the phrase is a rhetorical staple of the same folks who inveigh against “carbon pollution.” NASA scientist James Hansen, arguably the world’s most famous carbonophobe besides Al Gore, recently denounced the Keystone XL Pipeline as a “dirty needle” that, if approved, would feed our supposed oil addiction. [click to continue…]

Former Vice President Al Gore is the gift that keeps on giving to opponents of global warming alarmism and energy rationing policies. He leads what I think of as the Dream Team: Gore is the public leader; James Hansen is the go-to scientist; Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) pushed through a cap-and-trade bill in the House that killed cap-and-trade; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the main promoter in the Senate; when he dropped the ball, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was in charge for awhile; and she has now been replaced by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) with help from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

I used to think that we were just incredibly lucky that the alarmist movement was led by this group of second raters.   I now realize that it isn’t luck.  Global warming alarmism attracts incompetents, know-nothings, and looney tunes.

We have missed Al Gore in the debate, but luckily Kerry and Graham were fully up to sinking cap-and-trade in the Senate (not that it had much chance anyway) without any help from the leader of the forces of darkness. So it was good to see that Gore returned this week on a conference call sponsored by Repower America (aka the Alliance for Climate Protection).

Gore on the conference call acknowledged that cap-and-trade was dead and that the alarmists had lost in 2010.  He bitterly blamed the usual suspects: Big Oil, King Coal, right-wing media, and professional deniers (I believe that is where he would put me and CEI).  This is boilerplate nonsense.  Three of the big five oil companies (BP, Shell, and Conoco Phillips) support cap-and-trade, as well as most of the big electric utilities (Duke Energy, P G and E, Exelon, PNM Resources, Entergy, etc.) and many other major corporations, such as General Electric, Dow Chemical, General Motors, and Ford Motor.  Cap-and-trade died when the American people found out that it was a colossal transfer of wealth from them to corporate special interests (see the list in the previous sentence).

Gore even said that our system of government was not working as the founders intended it to work.  In fact, in the debate over cap-and-trade the system of checks and balances in the Constitution is working exactly as the founders intended.  It has prevented an elite from hijacking the economy for its own enrichment.

I can see why Gore is bitter.  His comparatively modest investments in green energy promised to make him a global warming billionaire if cap-and-trade were enacted. Unluckily for him, the American people have said no emphatically.

[This was originally posted on Politico’s Energy Arena here.]